2016 Miami Marlins: Improvements are mostly for show

On deck: Don’t look to the farm system if the Marlins get off to a slow start because any remedy from there is only going to make things worse. ESPN.com’s Keith Law ranks the farm system 29th, and it’s easy to see why. There aren’t many prospects and those there are are in the lower levels. The exception might be pitcher Jarlin Garcia, 23, who had a 3.06 ERA in the Florida State League last season but struggled at AA (4.91, 17 walks in 36.2 innings). On most teams, Garcia wouldn’t crack the prospect list’s top 10 — he has a career 3.72 ERA, 429 hits in 428.2 innings and 367 strikeouts. But he throws strikes (105 walks), and on the Marlins that moves him to the front of the Help Now line.

2015 stat: Giancarlo Stanton played only 74 games and still led the Marlins with 27 home runs, in just 279 at-bats. Justin Bour was next with 23, and three players — Marcell Ozuna, J.T. Realmuto and Derek Dietrich — hit just 10 each. Not surprisingly, the Marlins were 29 in MLB in home runs with 120. Only the Braves, with 100, hit less.

What he said: Team president David Samson on the difference between the 2016 and 2015 Marlins: “We had issues top to bottom. (last year). What we have this year is different.” What he meant: “This year we have issues bottom to top.”

Outlook: The Marlins had the answer for their lack of power last year: they moved the fence in and lowered the walls. What would Donald Trump say about the latter?

The Marlins should hit more home runs this year. So should their opponents, and therein lies the problem.

It took 38 games for the Marlins to fire Mike Redmond last year and it won’t take that long for Don Mattingly to realize he’s not in Los Angeles any more. But it’s going to take a lot more than Stanton’s good health and the signing of Wei-Yin Chen to make the Marlins competitive in a division that’s screeching for a third option.

The Marlins improved the experience more than the team, because who doesn’t love higher-scoring games? Except for soccer fans and could a billion of them be right?

So the Marlins adjusted their fences. If you can’t make a constructive fix, make a cosmetic one.

The Marlins won 71 games last year, their sixth straight losing season and the 17th in their 23 seasons. No team has a higher percentage of World Series titles to winning seasons, because every third time the Marlins have won 82 games or more, they’ve won a World Series.

That’s their way of telling the Braves what they can do with their 14 division titles in a row.

The Marlins were next-to-last in home runs and next-to-last in runs scored, but 15th in ERA with a staff whose big winner was Tom Koehler at 11-14. No other Marlin won more than Dan Haren’s seven games, though Jose Fernandez was 6-1 in 11 starts.

Fernandez, Stanton, outfielder Christian Yelich (.300/.366/.416, 16 steals) and second baseman Dee Gordon (.333 average, 58 steals, his first Gold Glove) totaled 13.6 of WAR last year, even more impressive considering Stanton played half a season and Fernandez pitched a third of one.

That’s a pretty good start to a playoff team, or better, which the Marlins have successfully watered down with mediocre complementary pieces. It’s like buying a South Florida mansion, and furnishing it with clearance accessories.

The Marlins hope Adam Conley (9-3 with a 2.52 ERA at AAA last year before a 3.76 ERA in 67 big-league innings) can be their No. 3 starter. But even so, the back of their rotation is full of pitcher for whom innings-eater would be a promotion in designation, and their bullpen is frighteninly shallow with Carter Capps lost to Tommy John surgery.

If the Marlins don’t get off to a better start, there’s not much more in AAA than relievers, and not enough cash on hand, after a season in which they were 28th in attendance, to secure assistance.

The Marlins are surrounded by all kinds of baseball celebrities, from Mattingly as manager to Barry Bonds as hitting coach to Ichiro as backup outfielder chasing 3,000 hits.

What they need is more substance, and less glitz.

Team Song: Jack Johnson: Only The Ocean


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